A retired professor sent me a letter. He told me that one of my stories was “plain,” and “needed more work.” And he told me a lot more than that, too.
I was afraid he was going to grade my work and give me a C minus.
I have a noted history of getting C’s. I once set a longstanding academic record for earning the most consecutive C’s in my weight division. Things like that stick with you.
Not all the messages I receive are bad, though. For example: This morning I got a message from a man in Tallapoosa. He started with the words, “I love you.”
That was nice. I can’t think of a better way to start a weekday.
Then, the man went on to tell me about something that happened to him once.
Years ago, he was standing in a supermarket line. He was trying to pay for his groceries, but his card got declined. A woman in line paid for his items. She was a stranger. He’s never told anyone about this.
“That woman probably didn’t know it,” he wrote, “but I was a single dad, at the time I was broke. She put food in my kids’ mouths.”
There’s the letter I got from the woman in Chattanooga.
She got pregnant when she was seventeen. Her family kicked her out of the house. She almost gave the child up for adoption because seventeen-year-olds can’t afford babies.
She wanted her child to have a good life, even if this meant letting it go.
A neighbor woman invited the girl to live with her for as long as the girl needed. She offered to babysit her child, and to let her use her car. The woman’s only condition was that the girl stay in school.
That was ten years ago, today the girl has a nursing degree and a nine-year-old.
Here’s another. A man named Trevor, from Missouri, sent me a story about his dog that went missing a few years back.
The animal was gone for a week. Trevor thought the animal was forever lost. He checked nearby shelters and neighborhoods. He even put up posters. Nothing.
One night, he got a call from a woman in Southeast Kansas. She had his dog.
He broke down crying on the phone. The dog had traveled twenty-four miles across a state line and showed up on her farm. When the woman found the animal she dialed the number she found on the dog’s tags.
Trevor made friends with the woman. Today, he regularly brings his dog to her property to let the dog run, and to drink tea with his new friend.
At Cracker Barrel last night, I watched an elderly woman in the busy dining room. The woman was eating alone. Have you ever watched an old woman eat alone? It’ll bring a tear to a glass eye.
A waitress struck up a conversation with the woman. They laughed a lot.
The server was in the weeds, but she never acted too busy for her elderly customer. The old woman seemed grateful to have someone to talk to.
And when I saw the large tip the old woman left, I knew her waitress would also be grateful.
Anyway, I get a lot of letters. Most are nice ones, but I also receive my share of nitpicks.
Someone called me “a misguided Pollyanna.” My mother will get a kick out of that.
This week, one offended person called me “racially crude” for using the term “Atlanta Braves.”
The truth is, these vocal readers are probably right about me. What business do I have writing? Who am I? I’m an average man from nowhere, who never had much of a GPA, and still sleeps with a nightlight. That’s who.
But everyone’s opinion means something, even if it’s a negative one.
So here’s my opinion, if I may:
What I am about to say, I say to both friends and critics. I say it to the happy, and the angry. The glass-half-full people, and the gloomy realists. I say it to anyone who can fog up a mirror.
To those who help teenage girls raise their babies. To anyone who isn’t sure they can make it another twenty-four hours. To professors.
To sad people. To Cracker Barrel waitresses who keep their wings hidden. To single fathers who can’t afford groceries. To strangers who make sure they can.
I say this because I believe it. And because I need to hear it. And I say it because it was recently said to me, and it is a great way to start a weekday.
I love you.
C‘s aren’t all that bad once you get used to them.